This Saturday, Langkawi once again plays host to Ironman Malaysia, an international triathlon that is the part of the Ford World ironman series.
The Langkawi Ironman is one of the most challenging triathlons in the world because it is held in February, the peak of Langkawi’s hot, rainless season. There’s probably no other triathlon that is held in such extreme heat.
Over 700 athletes from around the world will compete in this grueling event, which features a 3.8 km swim followed by a 180 km bike race and then a 42 km marathon.
Leslie after last year's Langkawi Iron Man
Les Mcmillan, our Paul Penders-sponsored athlete, will be competing in his third Langkawi Ironman. He will be using Paul Penders Herbal Sunscreen SPF 22 to protect him from the blistering sun.
In the following interview, he tells us about the conditions and problems facing participants:
LES: It is very hot in February and on race day it is possible to have the temperatures around 40 degrees on the bike course. Heat saps energy and it is crucial that adequate hydration is maintained. Water is not enough so fluids must contain electrolytes to replace the salts lost through sweating. It is a fine balance between drinking too much or too little. Every year, one can see the casualties of heat stress or dehydration being taken to hospital or receiving first aid in the medical tents.
PP: Last year you had a good race and finished with a time of 13 hours 17minutes. This was an improvement of one hour over your results the previous year. You experienced difficulties in the latter part of the run which spoiled a better finish. Was that a result of the heat?
LES: Yes, in a way it was related to the heat. In my case it was severe leg cramps with about 12 km to go. This can occur when there’s not enough salts left in the body. I had never experienced this before so it was a valuable lesson. I will have supplements in the form of Saltstick capsules with me on the run and hopefully the problem will not occur again.
PP: You are often seen training on the roads of Langkawi months before this event. How much time do you need to prepare yourself for Ironman Malaysia.
LES: I started preparing at the beginning of May last year. I roughly follow a program that takes me through a series of training steps over a period of 36 weeks. This demands a commitment of 6 days a week. Race fitness comes gradually and hopefully peaks around race time. Training times vary depending on the month. I have just finished a four week block which had 70 hours of training.
PP: Tell us why anyone would participate in such a demanding sport? You will be 55 this year. What drives you to want to compete again and again in what many perceive as a younger person’s sport.
LES: Well, you are only as old as you feel and there are lots of people my age and older here for the event. For me it’s all about challenging myself and maintaining a high level of fitness. On the day, I will try to go faster than last year but it’s the joy of participating with so many like-minded people that inspires me to keep going. Out on the course I will see people of all ages and abilities. Everyone will be doing their very best and it’s the mix of athletes, from as young as 18 to as old as maybe 80, pushing beyond their limits, that makes it such an exciting event for me.
PP: Do you have any advice for someone wanting to become an ironman?
LES: It’s a worthy goal and with the right preparation and courage it can be achieved. However, it’s important to realize that with the commitment there is a catch. It is easy to alienate family members. They have to endure the fact that your training regimes take precedent over family life. You need to find ways to keep their support.
PP: You are a New Zealander by birth but represent Malaysia in this event. Tell us about your life in Malaysia.
LES: I have lived in Langkawi for 15 years, so I consider this my home. My wife is Malaysian. We enjoy the tropical lifestyle here and have plans to build our retirement home soon. Our son Julius is about to start his own business. My wife Jackie is the driving force behind our popular beach front restaurant, Oasis.
PP: Do you eat any special foods that help you get enough energy for the big day?
LES: In the week leading up to the race I will eat a lot of pasta and rice dishes. This gives me lots of carbohydrates that will be broken down and stored in my muscles. I will also drink lots of fluids. On race day I will eat a good breakfast and maintain myself throughout the long day on powerbars and bananas, both which will provide carbohydrates. Most of this will happen on the bike leg, where tolerance for food is greater than on the run, where the stomach is easily upset.
PP: Thank you, Les. And best of luck in the race.